Sunday, September 2, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Thank you, Lord, for another sabbath, another opportunity to join friends and newcomers on this strategic corner where faithful pilgrims have gathered for nearly a century.  May we honor the Baptist freedoms long celebrated here, especially the autonomy of all believers, guided by your Spirit,  to interpret scripture for themselves.  Help us breathe deeply today of the pungent Hebrew love poetry in the Song of Songs, not taming it, watering it down, or reducing it to a boring, G-rated shadow of itself.  May our worship remain free and true to you, our passionate Creator.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Song of Songs 2)

Call to Worship:

My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.

I pour it out in a poem, shaping the river into words for the king:

God has blessed you so much!

Ride majestically on the side of truth.

Ride for the righteous meek.

May you love the right and hate the wrong.*(from Psalm 45, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, we give you thanks for the opportunity worship allows us to hit the re-set button.  In the midst of a culture too given to hurtful speech, help us be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when we’re angry.  We have an inflated sense of our own opinions, which we feel obliged to foist unbidden upon others.  In this holy hour, may we heed the wise candor of Jesus’ own family member, James, urging us to be doers of your word and not hearers only.  May our devotion to you show itself in our care for immigrants, orphans and widows, the powerless poor whom we find it so easy to ignore, for we make this appeal in the name of our Galilean Lord who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when we confuse legality with justice.  How sad when folks claiming to be followers of Jesus get more upset about preserving man-made statues than they’ve ever been about Jesus’ crucifixion, history’s most evil event, which was entirely legal and carried out by certified officials of the state.  How disgusting when those we look to for leadership within our beloved university and in the legislative corridors of power in Raleigh lack the courage to denounce human slavery as a sin, even if our ancestors did fight to preserve it.  How your heart must break when, out of one side of our mouths, we extol our hero Moses for setting your children free from Egyptian bondage, while from the other side of our mouths we debate restoring a symbol of white supremacy to its perch, doubling down on the original sin of its initial placement.   Lord, we have lost our way as a nation, and we stand convicted by Jesus’ words:  “You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.”  Have mercy on us, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 7)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for the first step toward forgiveness is willingness to turn and go the other way from evil.  True enough, as Jesus reminded his disciples, prophet Isaiah charged “This people  honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.”  Jesus agreed, adding “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come, and they contaminate a person in God’s sight.”  But that contamination need not be permanent, as Jesus modeled for us when in his agony on the cross he forgave the thief on the cross beside him, and even interceded for those who were crucifying him, crying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   Even now, Jesus is pleading our case before God’s throne, loving us despite our evil thoughts and actions, holding on to us even when we push him aside and choose hate over compassion for other sinners no more deeply flawed than we.  Thanks be to God for tempering justice with mercy, choosing grace over laws, loving us no matter what.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 7)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “White supremacists aren’t patriots, they’re traitors.”    - Senator John McCain